A Former Guru Reviews Kumaré (The ‘Fake’ Guru)
I’m Not Your Post-guru Guru
In the aftermath you cling to the hope that you still have some teaching to give. When the tenderly constructed illusion fractures, you pray that among the ruins a fragment of meaning remains—an insight dependant upon your own particular sadness. But what you’re left with, instead, is a crippling regret, an ego recovering from a savior complex. Life, post-mania, is one of tending to an irrational belief in your own total—and one-sided—complicity. You feel responsible for those you deluded.
In constructing a narrative out of this experience you find yourself consistently dumb. The ‘truths’ you attempt to elicit, to express, sound trite coming from your once holy lips. Everything falls short, until you realize that the only thing that breathed helium into your ‘insights’ was the highly tuned ears receiving your teachings.
The responsibility you feel is total. If you aren’t going to save someone from death (endless death, to be precise), then you’re responsible for ruining their life.
Thoughts like these held me captive for a very long time. I spent years in my post-guru life believing that I was in the process of deflating my enlarged skull only to find that I had yet to scale down my own sense of immeasurable importance. In my mind, I was still the most significant force in the lives of my former students. And I ached to feel that significant—that ‘connected’—again.
Vikram Gandhi, in his film Kumaré (The True Story of a False Prophet), touches upon this longing. Gandhi’s film is a Borat-esque documentary about his time as Kumaré, a guru and mythology he fabricated, who develops a small following of devoted disciples in the Arizona desert—only to later reveal his true identity (and lack of magical powers) to his acolytes. In the closing moments of his narrative, Vikram speaks of his own feelings of isolation and how his creation enabled him to connect more deeply with others. Essentially, as a guru Vikram felt a greater intimacy, almost as if his devotees had drawn him out of his own isolation.
But there are conflicting messages underpinning the logic of the film. In this regard, Vikram argues that Kumaré is a mirror reflecting the most cherished—and until then hidden—qualities undergirding the ‘true selves’ of his followers. And yet, if he was acting as a mirror, was he, Vikram, ever truly seen? Or was he simply an object upon which others could project their fantasies? By this logic, Kumaré was recognized, not Vikram. In this respect, it is not a dialogue (a mutual seeing) but a monologue. Vikram was abandoned somewhere along the road to spiritual enlightenment so that others (his followers) could converse with their own dreams of a perfect self.
It is for this reason I question the depth of Kumaré’s relationships. Are performance and deception the basis for real human intimacy? Was Vikram really connecting as Kumaré, or was he simply basking in the adulation his creation was receiving as an ‘enlightened holy man?’ In this regard, Kumaré is not a mirror but a canvas upon which his followers sketched portraits of their idealized savior. This raises an even more significant question: Does every outlandish fantasy, every dream of a better world, depict an accurate reflection of one’s true self? Or is it simply that many of these projections are symptoms of an unhealthy infatuation with spiritual perfection—a kind of undiagnosed fetish for the unrealizable that forfeits human intimacy for the forever-elusive fantasy just beyond the horizon?
Will The Real Guru Please Stand Up?
Is Vikram, like me, mourning the loss of a profound dream? A shared delusion in which he was infused with the most tender, desperate hopes of his lonely sheep? If so, I don’t blame him. It’s a beautiful fantasy. Ironically, Kumaré was just as ‘real’ of a guru as I ever was. Enlightenment is a performance, not a reality. It is this difficult truth that Vikram’s film reveals. But it is a messy truth, full of sadness and heartbreak. It is a confession, not a lesson or teaching. It is an admittance, not a thesis. It is for this reason that Vikram transcends the mask of Kumaré and shows something of himself at the end of his sermons in the desert. It is this revelation, of both Kumaré and Vikram’s humanity, that is the most intimate moment of the film. I would argue that he connected more deeply, as a person, with those who once believed in him as Vikram than he ever did as Kumaré, that he achieved an authentic intimacy only once he cast aside his mirror-façade and revealed his own face.
The guru-complex in me wants to explicate further, to end this essay with a final truth. But, by now, I know better. That would be the lecture and I want the conversation—just as Vikram did when he killed his creation, Kumaré, so that the man, Vikram Gandhi, could be known and understood.